A lil reflection on a different world

The last time I wrote a blogpost, the world felt like a very different place. I haven’t been online as much as usual or being as proactive as I’d have liked because I’ve been struggling to process it all. Saying/supporting everything feels so important that I’ve ended up saying nothing at all. 

Being away from people you love, particularly if they’re at risk, is hard and the world feels like such an uncertain and scary place right now. Not knowing when I’ll next be able to see some of the people I care about the most has left me feeling lost and scared and defeated and I can’t wait to be able to share the little moments in life with them again. It’s been particularly tough having this come at a time when I was slowly getting my bearings again after a really difficult patch with my mental health and had lots of lovely plans for the coming months that now won’t go ahead. 

But I’m also incredibly lucky to be able to work from home and that home for the time being is my boyfriend’s parents house with plenty of space to work and the loveliest garden in the world. I’ve been constantly reciting lists in my head of everything that’s good in an attempt to keep sane and I’m hopeful that we can come out of this situation with a renewed sense of importance for community, for public health, for valuing workers and treating each other well. For slowing down and for meaningful connection. For being grateful for the smallest of things.

I’m hoping to write a weekly post of what I’m feeling grateful for in such a surreal time, including celebrating the creatives that will make all of our lives in self-isolation richer. So the first one of those will come soon – until then I hope that everyone has the support networks in place to get through what will be a difficult time – if you’re losing work or left lonely or just in need of a pick me up, I’m always around for a chat.

The Featured Image for this post is by the wonderful Morgan Harper Nichols who can be found on Instagram at @morganharpernichols or via Garden24 whose work always feels like a gentle nudge to keep going and a reassurance that we’re enough, wherever we are and whatever is happening around us.

How to support someone you care about with their mental health.

It’s far too frequently that we all feel that horrible, desperate sadness at the news that someone has died by suicide. If you’ve suffered with your mental health it can bring up difficult memories or emphasise feelings of frustration and isolation and if you haven’t it can leave you feeling helpless or unsure as to how to best be there for the people around you. Today I thought I’d write a post with some advice (based on personal experiences rather than any professional insight) for those who, given recent news, worry that they don’t know how best to be there for the people they care about, who worry about getting things right or who just don’t always have the mental energy to be checking in with the people they love as much as they feel they should do.

Ask people what they need – everyone’s needs are different and everyone needs support in different ways. You don’t have to go into a conversation prepared to bring up all sorts of uncomfortable or messy emotions, but asking people if there’s anything they need or that you can be doing for them can be a really good starter – whether it’s just arranging to go for a coffee to check in with them or acknowledging that you know a certain time of year is difficult for them etc. It reminds people that you’re there for them and care about them but it doesn’t force conversations.

Be Patient – mental health problems can seem irrational, illogical and incredibly frustrating. People’s behaviour might make you feel exasperated or like you can’t get through to them. Whilst it’s ok to feel this frustration, prioritise being patient with the person you’re supporting – they likely know their behaviour isn’t helpful/doesn’t make sense, but anger or shame won’t help them get out of the cycle. Be kind, empathetic and encouraging.

Take care of your own emotions too – it can be so easy to put pressure on yourself to be checking in with everyone you love and looking for signs that they’re struggling with their mental health, but it’s important to recognise that supporting someone takes a lot of mental energy and can leave you feeling hurt or sad or anxious. You can still be there for people whilst making sure that you remember to be there for yourself. If you’re having a stressful week but know someone else is going through a bit of a rough time, let them know you’re having a bit of a crap time but that you want to check in with them and arrange to meet up/have a catch up for the next week.

Don’t feel like you have to support someone in isolation – there are so many resources out there to help you understand a person’s mental illness and there’s also so many services you can suggest to people. You don’t and definitely shouldn’t have to be the sole person someone relies on and you don’t have to figure out how to be there for them on your own. Mind provide free, online resources explaining how different illnesses manifest themselves, as well as providing personal accounts and advice for self help/support.

Remember that mental illness and accountability shouldn’t be two mutually exclusive things – it can be difficult to support someone with their mental health if sometimes what they’re going through manifests itself in ways that leave you feeling hurt. Your feelings are just as important and you should be able to hold people to account and ensure they respect your boundaries without them feeling attacked or hurt. Having a mental illness doesn’t make someone hard to love but it can be tough for those supporting at times and that’s not a reflection on either person. Make sure you let people know your boundaries in a non confrontational way and try to prioritise being empathetic and understanding with each other.

It’s ok to get things wrong – communicating, especially over things that you might usually not speak about, can be difficult and everyone’s coming at life from different perspectives/with different experiences. Try not to be too hard on yourself if you think you maybe didn’t do the right thing or weren’t as supportive as you could’ve been. Just try your best to be there for the people you care about in the ways you can.

Sunday in The City – Ancoats and The Northern Quarter

Today I thought I’d finally get around to writing my first Sunday in The City post – a lil collection of lovely places to visit/things to do on a relaxed Sunday morning in some of my favourite parts of Manchester. I’m starting with Ancoats and The Northern Quarter, though there’s too many lovely spots to recommend so it’ll most likely get a second post at a later date.

All the best Sundays start with brunch and Ancoats/the NQ offer up endless options. My absolute favourite though is Pollen Bakery, who offer up the most incredible pastries and cakes (best.lemon.cake.ever.), wonderful coffee and the best brunch choices – whilst a traditional fry up isn’t on the menu there’s options for hungover days (incredible sandwiches with bacon/mushrooms/eggs heaped on sourdough) and for coffee dates (ice cream pastries!!!). The cafe itself is beautiful too, right by the water at Islington Marina and filled with sunshine on bright days. Plus, there’s extra seating outside (for optimum dog spotting – you’re never far from a French Bulldog in Ancoats…).

After brunch, head out for a Sunday stroll through Cotton Field Park and by the canal. In summer there’s space for BBQs by the water and in winter nothing helps me feel cosier than watching smoke rise up from the chimneys of long boats or stumbling across a little cottage that seems out of place right in the city centre. If you follow the path round you can wind up right back at Piccadilly Station through a much quieter, scenic route.

If you’re looking for a few bits and pieces to pick up whilst you’re out and about, head to Tib Street in the Northern Quarter for Northern Flower. This lovely lil shop has all the house plants you can dream of, along with beautiful bouquets and bundles of dried lavender. It’s super cosy inside and the staff are always really friendly and helpful too.

Armed with a pretty bouquet and ready for more wandering, if you’ve come on the right weekend (the second Sunday of every month) you’ll find the Makers Market just around the corner in Stevenson Square – the best place to do any gift shopping whilst supporting small, local businesses and creatives. A few of my favourite vendors that have been there in the past include Old Man and Magpie Candles, LucyLooDoodles and Arctic Fox & Co. With everything from tea to art and candles on offer it’s the perfect way to finish up a Sunday in The City – wandering home or for the bus with something cosy and dreams of being able to eat your earlier brunch again every day for the rest of the week…

Wearing your vulnerabilities on your sleeve

I didn’t get around to blogging yesterday, but I did have a post published on one of my favourite websites (!!!!) – it’s talking about something I’d originally written about on this blog – hair loss. I was so proud of myself for opening up about something that’s really impacted my self esteem over the years (you can read the piece here), particularly because when I last tried to talk about on this blog I’d really struggled to fully be open about my experience/feelings – it’s hard to open up about the most vulnerable parts of yourself and put them out there for the world to see.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer – I’ve just always written for as long as I can remember and I struggle to express things properly in conversation, am pretty introverted and just can’t quite see myself doing anything else and being truly content. And I’ve always been as open and honest as possible in my writing, whether that made the writing seem lazy or overdramatic or angsty as hell. But when I started sharing stuff online I suddenly became self conscious of that. In some ways, this is definitely something I need to work on – it comes with wanting to be a writer to put yourself out there, expose yourself and your insecurities and your emotions to others. But I also think there’s this sense on the internet that you must bear your soul when expressing opinions and I struggle with it – it can be so emotionally draining and I don’t always have the energy to share my perspective on issues because the place that that perspective comes from is so deeply personal. It’s something I’m trying to get more comfortable with and figure out my boundaries surrounding and I hope I’ll get there in the end. But until then, I’ll try and keep reminding myself that I don’t have to expose the rawest, most vulnerable moments in a quick tweet responding to the news of the day. I don’t have to share anything I’m not comfortable with. And that doesn’t mean that I don’t care or that I’m not honest or that I’m less of a writer.

Blue Skies Are Calling

Today I braved the cold and sat outside on a bench in the winter sunshine whilst I ate my lunch. I watched the steam rise up from my chamomile tea, rifled through a book bathed in natural light, forced myself to tune out the traffic a street away and listened to the birds flitting around in the branches above. I also received a lovely message from a friend, a message that reminded me how far I’ve come and how much I’ve achieved that my younger self would be proud of, a message that also reassured me that there’s other people out there in the world treasuring these glimpses of the end of winter, these snatches of sunlight. Later on in the day the sunset felt longer, the sky more molten and then more pink and I felt so much relief at the visible signs of the days elongating.

It’s been a strange day. A strange day with some beautiful moments.

Home

Around four months ago Louis and I moved into a little flat together in one of my favourite parts of the city.

The way golden winter morning light lands on bookshelves and blue-tacked prints, the way we have this space that’s just ours, the way I don’t have to anxiously worry if someone else is in the kitchen or the bathroom or using the washing machine – everything about it feels like magic. Hot showers and hot cups of tea and candle light and having space that’s not just a bedroom in a student house, but somewhere that I love – I’m still unable to fully comprehend that these things are actually here to enjoy, that I survived enough to experience them.

Communal living at University and difficult circumstances with my family meant I’ve often felt dislodged, not at home anywhere over the last few years. It left me scrambling, unable to ever feel like I was fully recharging or able to stay afloat. Now, all of our books sit together and we can listen to whatever music we want whilst we cook dinner and it just feels like a dream. Friends come over and we fill the place with pink balloons and confetti and laugh and I find myself unable to quite believe that I’ve managed to get this far – sharing what feels like a perfect little flat with my favourite person, looking out over the city. That despite all of the trips to hospital and doctors appointments and days when I couldn’t leave the house or my room or my bed or stop crying or remember how to breathe – I am here and I am making progress and I’m not just surviving. And I feel so endlessly grateful for that.

I’ve included two pieces with this post – one written a couple of years ago, when even going to the kitchen to make pasta felt impossible and one from recently – sitting on the sofa on a Sunday not unlike today, finally feeling at home again.

Between

I didn’t end up blogging yesterday, but I think that’s ok when it’s because my evening was instead filled with lovely people and pizza and watching one of my favourite films (Pride!!! If you haven’t watched it you must). Today I thought I’d talk a little about ‘Between’, a collection of my poetry published in a zine by The Horsfall Gallery and 42nd Street Mcr. It also features cover art by the lovely Maddie Ismael.

It meant so much to be able to put this collection together, particularly as any money raised from people buying a copy go straight to finding the work that 42nd Street do. They do such amazing work and as an organisation mean so much to me – their support has helped shape the person I am today and I’m not sure where I’d be without them.

Whilst some of the pieces in the collection are also featured in The Trapped Mermaid, they all explore feeling kind of on the edge of things or between people and places and selves. It’s a collection of work written when I was trying to reconcile and figure out so much of myself and how I’ve changed. Pieces explore everything from falling in love with a city to how I feel about class and my relationship with myself and others. Some pieces were written before I’d ever shared any of my writing with anyone (and never quite expected to, as much as I wanted to) and it’s strange to see them end up in print for people to read – more so than when I self-published The Trapped Mermaid.

There’s the critical part of me that feels uncomfortable even briefly talking about creative projects and I think it’s a shame – I don’t know if I’ll ever quite feel like I deserve to take up creative space and I quietly let The Trapped Mermaid go out into the world without making a big deal out of it, despite the fact that it’s a collection that means so much to me. So this is a tentative little acknowledgement that I made a thing and that is something I should celebrate in itself.

If you’d like to pick up a copy, you can either message me or they’re on sale at The Horsfall Gallery in Ancoats.

Three favourite Manchester Coffee Shops

Today I thought I’d write a lil post about my top three coffee shops in Manchester – spaces that feel like a bit of a refuge for me in the city and that I always like to escape to when I’m having a rough day. They’re spaces that are filled with memories, whether that’s catching up with friends, fuelling myself entirely on mochas whilst tackling an essay or just taking some time to slow down and escape with a book and some cake.

The Art of Tea – Didsbury.
I first stumbled upon The Art of Tea, just off of the high street in Didsbury village, in my second year of University and quickly fell in love. Not only do they do the best hot chocolates, this place is particularly wonderful because if you wander to the back you’ll find Didsbury Village Bookshop. Books are stacked in their hundreds everywhere you turn and you can get some beautiful editions for no where near as much as you’d usually pay – definitely something to keep in mind if you’re looking for gifts for bookish friends too! One of my favourite ways to spend an afternoon is to pick out a book from the shop and then get cosy (tip – the sofas near the counter are the comfiest ever) with a hot chocolate and read. It can be busy on the weekends, but if you go when it’s quiet this place is the loveliest. (a lil shameless product promo of my poetry collection thrown in for good measure)

TakkTariff Street, Northern Quarter.

Takk is a relatively recent haunt for me after trying their new store at University Green on the University of Manchester campus. They have three spaces in the city centre – one in Hatch, one at the University and one in the Northern Quarter. I love all three, but the Northern Quarter space is definitely my favourite. Whilst the other two are more clean, minimal spaces their Tariff Street location feels how I think all coffee shops should be – cosy, with slightly steamed up windows and lots of different types of seats and tables. Their mochas are amazing but my favourite thing is their salted caramel brownies, which are one of the best desserts I’ve tried. When I’m having a bad day this is one of my favourite places to retreat to for some quiet.

Chapter One Books – Northern Quarter.

Chapter One feels like an obvious choice when it comes to Manchester coffee shops – a dreamy lil space that’s open until midnight every day. It’s been my location of choice for countless evenings panic writing essays and they do the best cakes – their vegan ones in particular are so good. I’ve lots of fond memories writing or reading or just hiding from the world in Chapter One and I love having a quiet, calming space to go to late in the evening when I’m in need of a pick me up. Finding a seat during the day can be a bit of a struggle but later on it’s usually quiet enough. It’s also beautiful in there, with pretty fairy lights, a fountain and lots of cosy seating – some is perfect for watching people and buses passing by outside, some is completely tucked away up a set of stairs with cosy cushions. Out of everywhere, it’s definitely my favourite coffee shop – the world feels like a much softer place when you’re tucked away from the cold with a slice of lemon cake, a chamomile tea and a good book.

Self-care for the sake of kindness.

Yesterday I found myself in a situation where my anxiety, which had been building up for a long time, became unmanageable at the worst possible moment. One of my initial reactions was to be frustrated with myself for not having taken time out during the day to mentally prep, for not having been able to focus much on self care over the past few days so that I could be in a positive state of mind for the evening. And as I wrote yesterday’s blogpost, it got me thinking about all the ways in which we see self care and whether we perceive it in a positive, helpful way.

Plenty of people have talked about how self care isn’t all face masks and bubble baths and it’s definitely true – self care isn’t always pretty. It can be tedious and exhausting and hard work. But last night I ended up thinking about how even when self care isn’t just about things like skin care and candles, there’s still some underlying issues in a lot of what I see online.

A lot of people talk about self care as doing what makes you happy and quitting things that no longer serve you. There’s the obvious limitations that crop up when confronted with these ideas – having to pay rent or bills or look after your family etc. But there’s also this idea that self care is always about maintaining “happiness” and “positive energy” which I think can be unhealthy – we can’t self care ourselves to happiness and constant happiness isn’t sustainable. This idea of using self care as a way to achieve a life devoid of negative people and thoughts and feelings is toxic in itself. Self care shouldn’t just be a fix for the bad stuff, it should be a tool to help you through it.

Sometimes that means self care works in more subtle ways – accepting that you didn’t have time to be mindful or go for a walk during the day and that maybe things didn’t go as planned, but learning from it and being kind to yourself rather than critical and frustrated. Taking the stairs rather than the lift because you don’t need to anxiously stare at the same ‘flaw’ that you’ve already checked several times that morning in your bedroom mirror. On a day to day basis, these aren’t necessarily ways in which I feel like I’m practicing self care. But they stack up and they’re important. And in many ways they’re more successful than the times that I go for a walk with the sole aim of feeling better – I’m looking out for myself without trying to self care away my feelings.

The ideas I’ve talked about are often expressed in lovely Instagram posts and quotes that we see on a daily basis. I get that, for the most part, they’re about making sure you prioritise your self and your wellbeing in a world that can be cruel and exhausting. But seeing these quotes day after day can slowly, in my experience, make you feel like the goal in taking care of yourself is to be constantly happy and in the past it’s left me feeling frustrated when I’ve not been able to fix my sadness with the right self care.

When it comes down to it, I think I’ve realised self care isn’t about happiness. It’s about kindness. It’s about making the world a little softer for yourself, especially on the days when you feel like crap. It’s not about doing what makes you happy, it’s about loving yourself enough so that when the happiness comes around, you’re able to let it in.

Making my mind a kinder place to be.

Today I had an interview, not for a job, but for something else that I really cared about. I also had a day where waves of anxiety made me feel lightheaded and nauseous. And those waves got worse and worse whilst I waited to enter the room, heart pounding and slightly shaking and wishing I could think a little clearer. It didn’t go well – I felt like I rambled aimlessly, struggled to answer questions and didn’t get my points across well or ask any of the questions I’d been hoping to ask. I left and felt embarrassed and frustrated with my anxiety and sad that it constantly impacts my life, even when the rational part of my brain is telling me that I’m safe. If I’d just been able to slow my brain down a little, things probably would’ve been okay.

I arrived back home and felt defeated and sad and very much done with the week. And I tried to accept that it’s not the only opportunity out there to do the things I care about, that I’m still capable and will get there eventually. But it can be really hard to struggle so much with a mental health issue that sometimes feels impossible to control. I think I find it particularly difficult because up until recently I didn’t realise how much of an impact anxiety had on my life, how much it’s snatched away from me and tainted. Whilst I’ve made so much progress with other areas of my mental health, I’m suddenly hyper-aware of how much anxiety is deeply rooted into how I approach and experience life…

Hopefully I’ll be starting more therapy soon – I’m nervous to have a different therapist and to begin to tackle some of the work that I so desperately need to do. But I’m hoping that it’ll feel good to start being more proactive with my mental health again. And until then I just need to learn to accept that I’m living with something that makes things harder but that doesn’t mean I’m a failure or wrong in any way – I just need to prepare for it, learn from it and continue to prioritise looking after myself and my mind as much as is possible. And I’m also going to try and balance every negative thought I have about myself with another, more positive one (or at least more neutral) in the hopes of making my mind a kinder place to be.

Tomorrow’s post will lead on from this one a little – it’s going to be about approaching self care in a realistic and healthy way, rather than adhering to mantras that don’t take into account the obligations, limitations and nuances of people’s lives.